Leading the News
Proposed Budget Cuts Seek To Shift Research Initiatives To Private Sector.
EnergyWire (3/17, Ferris, Subscription Publication) reported that President Trump’s proposed budget calls for a “historic scaling-back of research and development by the Department of Energy, upending decades of bipartisan consensus on the department’s mission.” The Administration believes that the private sector, not the federal government, should be leading major research initiatives. Meanwhile, “entrepreneurs who receive DOE research funding see themselves as helping the United States gain a competitive edge in a global energy sector.” E&E notes that it is “unclear how a DOE retreat would affect today’s system” in which the federal government often collaborates with outside partners in “complex, expensive efforts to turn a promising technology into actual product.”
ClimateWire (3/17, Subscription Publication) reported that the 5.6 percent cut to DOE’s overall budget and the programs slated for elimination “runs counter to Perry’s stated support for programs like ARPA-E.” In a post on Twitter last week, Perry wrote, “Innovators like the ones supported by our @ARPAE program are key to advancing America’s energy economy.” He later released a statement calling the budget “forward looking, mission focused.”
Newsday (NY) (3/19, Dobie) contributor Michael Dobie laments budget cuts to the Energy Department, which target “programs studying biofuels, energy efficiency and renewable energy— like cutting-edge battery research being done at Brookhaven National Laboratory,” and are “critical because the nation’s transition to alternative energy will require more efficient storage of energy.”
Key Republican Appropriator Pushes Back Against Trump Budget Cuts. E&E Daily (3/17, Subscription Publication) reported that a key Republican appropriator “pushed back” against President’s Trump’s sharp budget cuts, stating that discretionary spending is “already under control because of earlier cuts.” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee, is a longtime supporter of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program with noted interest in national laboratories. He maintained that Congress, not the White House, is responsible for determining whether a program is wasteful and should be cut.
Engineering Students Experience “Revolutionary” Change To Education System.
U.S. News & World Report (3/17, Marsa) reported on the “rapid surge in interest in advanced manufacturing, or in using sophisticated technologies to re-energize the country’s manufacturing sector.” Carnegie Mellon University’s Jelena Kovacevic, head of the electrical and computer engineering department, is quoted saying, “Engineering education is undergoing a revolution. … At the center of meeting today’s challenges is an age-old idea: Learn by making, doing and experimenting. We can do this by imbuing real-world problems into our curricula through projects, internships and collaboration with companies.” The article says Kovacevic is “currently working within a $10 million collaboration between Purdue and General Electric aimed at devising new ways to boost factory output and lower production costs.”
Administration Rescinds Rule That Blocked Student Loan Agencies From Targeting Defaulted Borrowers.
McClatchy (3/17, Welsh) reports the Department of Education on Thursday “rolled back a 2015 rule that prevented student-debt collection of large fees from defaulted borrowers who quickly begin paying again.” The department in a statement “said the Obama administration rule would have benefited from public comment before it was put in place,” and it “said the rule would not be reinstated without a period of public comments. In the meantime, guaranty agencies are free to resume collecting the fees.”
The Washington Post (3/17, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the move comes “days after a report on federal student loans revealed a double-digit rise in defaults,” explaining that ED “is ordering guarantee agencies that collect on defaulted debt to disregard a memo former President Barack Obama’s administration issued on the old bank-based federal lending program, known as the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. That memo forbid the agencies from charging fees for up to 16 percent of the principal and accrued interest owed on the loans, if the borrower entered the government’s loan rehabilitation program within 60 days of default.” Politico Morning Education (3/17) also covers this story.
Key Members Of Congress Seeking Answers About FAFSA Data Retrieval Tool Shutdown.
Politico Morning Education (3/17) reports that the leaders of Congress’ education committees from both parties are calling for “more information about the IRS and Education Department’s sudden decision earlier this month to suspend” the FAFSA Data Retrieval Tool, which allows applicants to import tax return information into their FAFSA. The members are calling on DeVos to brief them on the situation, saying “they wanted to know ‘the cause and scope of the outage and the steps the [Education] Department and the IRS will take to assist students and families that are impacted.’”
Inside Higher Ed (3/17) also covers this story.
Lack Of HBCU Funding Boost In Trump Budget Sparks Criticism.
Politico Morning Education (3/17) reports that President Trump’s recent executive order “aimed at supporting historically black colleges…failed to deliver on a major request from those college leaders: A call for more money for the schools.” President Trump’s budget proposal, the piece reports, adds to HBCUs’ funding woes because though it keeps direct funding level, “it also recommends cuts to programs that help low-income students pay for college — and which are particularly critical for these colleges.” The article quotes Marybeth Gasman, who runs the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority-Serving Institutions, saying, “He’s not genuine in his support of HBCUs in particular because he was willing to put forth a budget like this.”
CUNY Going To “Fundamentally” Rework Its Remediation Programs.
The New York Times (3/19, Harris, Subscription Publication) reports that in a effort to better prepare students for college-level classes, the City University of New York (CUNY) is going to “fundamentally rework its traditional remedial programs.” Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost at CUNY Vita C. Rabinowitz said that currently 80 percent of freshman require remediation and that after one year only half of the students have advanced out of remediation. Rabinowitz also said that “we had outcomes that were in line with national averages, which is to say very disappointing,” and that is the system is not working then “CUNY is not working.”
Research and Development
University Teams Working With NASA’s Valkyrie Robots.
TechCrunch (3/18, Heater) reported on a NASA Valkyrie robot currently on loan to Northeastern University researchers as part of the agency’s Space Robotics Challenge. The $2 million, six-foot, 290-pound model is one of four units produced by NASA, which kept one and loaned the others to MIT and Scotland’s University of Edinburgh. While Valkyrie is a test robot and will never make the journey to space, the research teams are working “to help prep Valkryie’s successors prepare for the important task of setting up hostile Martian terrain for human settlement.” In January, NASA narrowed the Space Robotics Challenge down to 20 finalists competing for a $1 million prize.
NASA Adds Four Research Teams SSERVI Roster.
Engadget (3/19) reports that NASA has added four research teams to the roster of its Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). NASA selected the teams from 22 finalists, and the four join nine other SSERVI teams to share $3 to $5 million of annual funding from the agency over the next five years. The teams’ research areas are the moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Martian moons Phobos and Deimos.
Scientists: Texas Well Placed To Lead Hydrogen Fuel Cell Development.
In an op-ed in the San Antonio Express-News (3/19, Lloyd, Webber), senior research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute Alan C. Lloyd and deputy director at the Energy Institute Michael E. Webber argue that “Texas is ideally situated to be a leader in producing hydrogen” fuel cells “for the next generation of electrically powered vehicles.” They explain that the state “has excellent resources of natural gas – the main feedstock for manufacturing hydrogen – and of solar and wind, which can be used to produce renewable hydrogen by electrolyzing water.” They note that the technology has support, including a group of “13 major international companies” that “recently created a Hydrogen Council to pool” nearly $2 billion “to promote hydrogen in the energy transition.”
Engineering and Public Policy
NYTimes A1: Driver Hubs In New York Show Competition Between Taxis, Uber.
A front-page New York Times (3/18, A1, Hu, Subscription Publication) article reports on the competition between Uber and the New York City’s taxis as exemplified in their competing centers with the one serving cabdrivers having opened in 2015 and being 3,000 square feet, while the Uber center is 30,000 square feet with “a raft of lucrative perks that are unmatched by the taxi center.” Uber has opened similar, though smaller, hubs in other major cities “including in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia and Miami.”
The New York Times (3/18, Benner, Subscription Publication) reports in a second story on problems Uber is facing, including charges of discrimination and sexual harassment, other ethical allegations, and a video of CEO Travis Kalanick telling “one of Uber’s drivers that ‘some people just don’t want to take responsibility’ for their own behavior.” The article focuses on the actions of board member and early investor Bill Gurley, who is “helping the company search for a chief operating officer” and is regarded as a moderating influence on the company and personally on Kalanick.
EPA Awards $100 Million To Upgrade Flint Water System.
Reuters (3/17, Volcovici) reports the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday it has awarded $100 million to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality “to upgrade Flint, Michigan’s drinking water infrastructure to address a crisis that exposed thousands of children to lead poisoning.” The money was disbursed under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which was passed by Congress last year and signed into law by former President Obama.
Maryland Governor Supports Fracking Ban.
The AP (3/17, Witte) reports Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan expressed support for a statewide fracking ban Friday. The announcement “gives a strong boost to legislation to ban the drilling process.” The Baltimore Sun (3/17, Wood, Dresser) reports Hogan called the ban “an important initiative to safeguard our environment,” and called on “members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle and in both houses to come together and finally put this issue to rest.”
Automotive Executives Expect Pursuit Of Efficiency To Continue Even If US Eases Requirements.
The AP (3/17, Krisher) reports from a Thursday meeting of Auto industry executives near Detroit where they said that President Trump’s decision to reconsider fuel economy standards “might allow for sales of more trucks,” but that “the pursuit of fuel-efficiency technologies will proceed unabated.” That’s because of “the billions of dollars already invested in efficient vehicles,” and “other countries are toughening” efficiency standards. The AP explains that Trump announced earlier in the week that the EPA “will re-examine gas mileage requirements” adopted by the Obama Administration in its “last days,” a decision which “automakers lobbied Trump hard to get.” Now, “given Trump’s promises to auto CEOs” it is expected that “the requirements will be weakened.”
Connecticut To Implement Climate Change-Related Instruction With New Science Standards.
The Greenwich (CT) Time (3/19) reports Connecticut “is in the midst of converting school science curriculum to the Next Generation Science Standards, an inquiry-based program created by several states, the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.” Those standards will require teachers to increase the number of lessons related to climate change and other environmental issues. Some educators compared the subject matter to evolution, which is taught in biology classes and no longer considered controversial because, as Shepaug Valley School science department chair Scott Werkhoven explained, it “is one of the cornerstones of biology” and “one of the central themes that explains how life arose to what we have today and how things are related.” Even though “the existence of climate change is widely accepted, its cause is more controversial,” so Newton assistant superintendent Jean Evans Davila stressed that its instruction must adhere to state and national standards.
STEM Gender Gap Decreases In High School, Persists Beyond.
EdSource (3/19) reports the National Girls Collaborative Project, which is partially funded by the National Science Foundation, suggested female students now account for about half of high school science and math class enrollments and score nearly identical to their male peers on standardized tests. Yet, “progress lags beyond the walls of high schools.” Female college students are still underrepresented in STEM majors, and those “numbers are even lower in the workplace.” High school girls’ increased STEM participation is largely attributed to nonprofits’ efforts and general societal trend shifts, but those changes “have not been across” all STEM fields. Colleges are encouraging women to pursue computer and engineering fields through various programs, but obstacles to those efforts include gender differences in career goals, Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture, and video games that typically depict girls “in demeaning ways, either as sidekicks or as hypersexualized.”
Washington School District Purchases Virtual Welding Machine.
The AP (3/19) reports the Longview School District in Longview, Washington recently purchased a $35,000 Lincoln Electric virtual welding machine “designed to help beginning welders learn the techniques and basics.” The district funded the purchase with its Computer and Technical Education budget in hopes of granting “students a step up toward a potentially lucrative career.” The “new, hidden gem” looks like an “elaborate video game device,” but it “spits out a report card on the student’s performance” and makes immediately available “images of the student’s finished virtual weld, along with statistics on position, arc length, work angle, travel angle and travel speed.” It also identifies “potential reasons for why the weld was imperfect.” Industrial technology teacher Tim Lam said the system saves grading time and money that would be otherwise necessary to finance real welding materials.
San Francisco Hosts Regional First Robotics Competition.
The San Francisco Chronicle (3/18) reported hundreds of high school students participated this weekend in the regional For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (“First”) Robotics Competition in San Francisco. The winners advance to Houston in April for the world final. This year’s theme is SteamWorks, “standing for science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” and students designed and built their robots from scratch in only six weeks.
New Jersey Students Participate In Wind Turbine Competition.
The AP (3/18) reported New Jersey high school students gathered at Paramus High School on Friday to participate in the New Jersey STEM League competition “to create the most efficient wind turbine.” Student teams used computer-aided drafting, or CAD, to develop wind turbine scheme drawings, tested their models in a physics experiment, and “then built a product based on their drawing.” The wind turbines were pitted against “electric fans to see which ones produced the most electricity.” Judges scored the students not only on their wind turbines’ energy output, but also on students’ public speaking skills and how well they explained their designs.
Montana School District Increases Focus On Career And Technical Education.
The AP (3/18, Hoffman) reported Montana’s School District 2 has, in recent years, heightened its focus on career and technical education. This year, it “started funneling more freshmen and sophomores toward the Career Center, which was traditionally home to older students.” The district praised a bill adding $1 million in CTE funding in 2015, but because the state “still lags far behind most states,” SD2 “is spearheading another funding increase proposal this year.” It also announced a new administrative position aimed at coordinating district education with employers’ needs. SD2 will pay half of the new position’s salary, and local businesses and foundations will finance the other half.
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Trump Budget Would Sharply Cut Funding For Scientific Research.
• NSF Grant Provides 3-D Printers For Virginia Tech Student Teachers.
• Purdue Researcher Working On Robot Language Acquisition.
• Cars May Become More Efficient, Even Without Efficiency Rules.
• House Panel Eyes Hydro Power Permit Reforms.
• Ghanaian And DC High School Students Team Up For STEM.